The Azkals will make their Asian Cup debut this year. After a good result in the 2018 AFF Cup last month, Sven-Goran Eriksson will face bigger obstacles to improve Philippines’ football step by step. Phil Younghusband and colleagues will compete in Group C with China PR, Korea Republic and Kyrgyzstan. So, how far they can go?
Unluckily for them the superstar goalkeeper, Neill Etheridge will unavailable for this competition. Apart from that, Eriksson hasn’t massively changed his squad from the one that turned out in the AFF Cup. Beside Etheridge and 28-years-old goalkeeper Patrick Deyto, the squad will be without defender Amani Aguinaldo and striker Martin Steuble. Then four new faces called up to UAE, two of whom are goalkeepers – Nathanael Villanueva who play for Kaya Ilo-ilo and Kevin Ray Mendoza who play for Danish club, AC Horsens.
Eriksson main formation is flat 4-4-2, but he experimented with a 3-4-3 during the last game of AFF Cup 2018. It is likely that he reverts to his traditional formation for this tournament, as the Philippines will need a solid defense against ‘big fish’ like China PR and Korea Republic.
So, what will the starting eleven be? The man between the sticks is obviously for the Bangkok United number one, Michael Falkesgaard. While the two centre-back in front of him will be Alvaro Silva and Carli de Murga. Alvaro, was nominated for the 2018 AFF Cup Best XI while Carli was irreplaceable for the Azkals’ last month.
The wing-back selections will be a bit difficult to decide, as Eriksson only called up four pure defenders for the upcoming campaign. This means that some midfielders will play as wing-backs, like what Kevin Ingreso or even Martin Steuble did during the AFF Cup. Daisuke Sato looks like have a permanent spot in the left-back, while I suggest that Ingreso or Luke Woodland play on the right side. Especially for Ingreso, who has a good technique, pace and acceleration and also have good passing skill.
Eriksson have a bunch talented players in the midfield area. While James Younghusband will have a permanent spot either on the right or left wing, to serve his brother Phil the striker, another player who play good during the AFF is the 22-years-old midfielder, John-Patrick Strauss.
Strauss, who plays primarily as a defensive midfielder, has the ability to cut passes from the opponents. There are two senior players who can help him to build a strong midfield area, and will pick between Stephan Schroeck or Iain Ramsay. Manuel Ott looks likely to start on the other flank.
Up top, the Azkals have Phil Younghusband and Mike Ott as their deadliest duo, while their brothers support them from the wings. However, since Eriksson prefers to have one main striker, it is likely that patrick Riechelt will play behind Phil, leaving Mike Ott or Jovin Bedic to be the super-sub for the Azkals.
Lastly, how far can they go in this competition? The most realistic result they can achieve from the Group C is to finish under China PR and Korea Republic, hoping to qualify based on their record compared to other third placed teams. But to goes further beyond the Round of 16 may impossible. Because looks like they will meet the Winner of Group A or Group B to fight for a ticket to the quarter-final. This could mean either Thailand, the UAE or title holders Australia. A potential meeting with the War Elephants will be awesome, giving them a rematch from their AFF Cup encounter while pitting several Thai League teammates against each other.